Letter (6) — We That Never Was Us

Image by Layers on Pixabay

“O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?”
— William Butler Yeats, Among School Children

To Him:

Why do we dance this charade?

Words veiled in blinding plumage.
The peacock’s narcissistic strut.

Tapping innuendo, one feather coerced.
Then two.
A false confidence masquerade.

You foreshadow covenants.
I feign indifference.

We tease the unknown.

I curtsy.
Eyes seduce behind veil of steel.

You bow.
Hand extended in burning anticipation.

We touch. Fire to Ice.

I melt.
You mock.

We pause.

Footsteps echo far.
Illumination dims.
I waltz alone behind the curtain.

We that never was Us deteriorates in darkness.

Note: This letter was originally published August 16, 2020 on Medium. In 2020, I migrated that writing content to my personal webpage. The poem is a tweaked version of an original written a few years ago. The more contemplation I gave in writing a full letter to Him, the more I realized these words say all I need to say.

The Joke

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

A workaholic extrovert walks into pandemic isolation…

Somewhere in that phrase lies a joke. Four months plus along and it has yet to reveal the punchline, but I can tell it is still there. Like everything else in 2020, I anticipate it will jump out and surprise me when I least expect it.

Today is my birthday. It’s a tough year for jovial festivities.

Birthdays ending in fives or zeros always bring a bit of reflection and one year ago I might have admitted needing to slow down. This is absolutely not what I had in mind. I longed for a proper pandemic-free vacation that required a passport. A couple weeks spent anywhere-but-here would have fueled me for months to come.

As it happens, a couple weeks turned into months and anywhere-but-here became only here.
And here I am.

For the first six weeks of this global pandemic phenomenon, I stayed home. My car decided to get sick with the rest of the planet. I had no choice but to do the right and recommended thing. In that time, I interacted (in person) with three grocery delivery saints, my property manager, one coworker who dropped off my monthly prescriptions and another who blessed me with a vodka replenishment, as well as one pizza delivery dude.

I am a talker. I love people time. Seven brief in-person human interactions in six weeks is the absolute antithesis of how I prefer to exist.

I also love to work. Who’s ready for live events to resume? Even if this pandemic pushes my career in a new direction, I am itching to go to a concert or attend a convention. All of this “leisure time” is making me crazy. Since the age of 18, I have not had this much… time.

Idle is an unnatural state I learned to embrace — within reason.

Éowyn says, “Hi!”

I needed a project to manage and I chose my home.

The time and attention to detail I normally give my clients, I poured into my apartment. There has been much painting and redecorating and decluttering over the last few months. I am no minimalist. My style is very much global eclectic based on my childhood in Kenya and travel adventures.

On this birthday, I’m happy to be here in my home. It is a place I can breathe, rest, and renew.
The joke is most definitely on me and my wanderlusting heart.

Still, I am more than ready for 2020 to cease with its shenanigans. Aren’t you?

12 Sci-Fi Quotes for an Election Year

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

One of the prevailing themes in science fiction is that of the power struggle. Who will be in charge — of humanity, the planet, the universe? Who will prevail? What will it mean for the rest of us?

Here are twelve quotes to consider as we head back to the polls here in the United States.

“To permit irresponsible authority is to sell disaster.” ―Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers

“Governments, if they endure, always tend increasingly toward aristocratic forms. No government in history has been known to evade this pattern. And as the aristocracy develops, government tends more and more to act exclusively in the interests of the ruling class — whether that class be hereditary royalty, oligarchs of financial empires, or entrenched bureaucracy.” — Frank Herbert, Children of Dune

“My great uncle emigrated from Earth. He missed it terribly. He used to tell me stories when I was a little boy about these endless blue skies, free air everywhere, open water all the way to the horizon… I could never understand your people. Why, when the universe has bestowed so much upon you, you seem to care so little for it?” — The Expanse (S1, E4)

“You’ve lost sight of the purpose of the law: to protect its citizens, not persecute them.” — Battlestar Galactica (S1, E6)

“Many of the truths that we cling to depend on our point of view.” — Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi

“We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?” — Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

“Some people think the future means the end of history. Well, we haven’t run out of history quite yet. Your father called the future — ‘the undiscovered country.’ People can be very frightened of change.” — Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

“The best alliances are formed from necessity, not convenience.” — Dark Matter (S3, E8)

“John Adams was a farmer. Abraham Lincoln was a small-time lawyer. Plato and Socrates were teachers. Jesus was a carpenter. To equate judgment and wisdom with occupation is, at best, insulting.” — Warehouse 13 (S1, E10)

“One of the most effective forms of… sabotage limits itself to damage that can never be thoroughly proven — or even proven at all — to be anything deliberate. It is like an invisible political movement; perhaps it isn’t there at all… over a period of natural time, with numerous small failures and misfiring- then the victim, whether a person or a party or a country, can never marshal itself to defend itself.” — Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly

“God doesn’t take sides.” — Battlestar Galactica (S1, E10)

“The seed of doubt was there, and it stayed, and every now and then sent out a little root. It changed everything, to have that seed growing. It made Ender listen more carefully to what people meant, instead of what they said. It made him wise.” — Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game

Vote wisely.

Letter (5) — If You’re From Africa, Why Are You White?

Photo by David Pisnoy on Unsplash

To my extraordinary black savior:

“Beth, This sure has been a pleasant surprise. I have never had a real friend from the motherland… ” (10th grade yearbook)

“You’re the girl from Africa.”

It was only third period on the first day of school — and I hadn’t told anyone I was from Kenya. Turning toward your voice, I had to look up. Then I had to look up again.

Two teenagers could not have been more different.

I was still short then — a small, talkative, blonde, white girl with green eyes. I’m taller now and I still talk a lot, but you probably wouldn’t recognize me. You reminded me of a Maasai warrior — tall and black. In place of a spear and shield, you sported a letterman jacket to indicate your rank.

“Yeah, I’m from Africa.”

“Cool,” you smiled, folding down into the normal person sized desk. How did you fit in those desks?

I was hoping to fly under the radar that year. Too late. Someone in the church youth group had talked. It only took two days for the harassment to start.

Attending a faith-based, multicultural boarding school in the middle of an African country shielded me from many things, but not the cruelty of junior high. I had spent the last two years enduring relentless torment from two girls in my class. An athlete, being a tomboy helped on the sports field, but we had reached an age where I was no longer considered “one of the guys.” The end of ninth grade left me feeling shunned and lonely. Perhaps it merely served to prepare me for something much worse.

What it did shield me from was blatant and brutal racism. Oh, I was aware of it. My father was once offered a position in South Africa. I cried and cried. I did not want to live with apartheid. He declined the opportunity, in part, because of my feelings. Still, at fifteen, I continued to believe racism in America existed only in history books.

One morning, I was making my way between classes when a boy almost knocked me over. And then another. And then another. In the midst of being jostled down the hallway, I heard one of them hiss, “Ni**er lover.”

I was not then, nor will I ever be, shamed into feeling guilty for loving black people. More often than I care to admit, I am angry at and ashamed of white people — like those high school bullies in the hallway. There was no denial, but I also didn’t take a stand. I was alone and outnumbered.

For a week I tried to find alternative routes between classes. They would find me. I skipped lunch and hid in the library every day. I cried at home every night. I asked to transfer to the high school across town — one where the student body was predominately black. I wouldn’t give my father a reason for the request, so I stayed. All I wanted was to go home to Kenya.

At a time when I was angry, confused, and terrified, you saw me.

The second week of school began. The bell ending our mutual third period French class rang. I gathered my books slowly, planning my zig-zag-mad-dash to Geometry. When I got to the door, you were there and asked me to wait. There was no way to get past you, so I did just that. Before long, we were joined by one of your friends.

Together, you escorted me to class — quietly daring anyone in the hall to take you on. No one did. I felt relief. I felt safe. When that class ended, you appeared again. And again. And again. At home that night, I didn’t cry.

Later that week, one of the bullies stepped into our path and issued a racially-laced verbal challenge. I expected a fight. It didn’t come. You took the high road and we just kept walking. Without backup, he had no choice but to move out of the way. Until then, each friend you brought along was also black. That incident brought a radical change.

When the bell rang ending first period the next day, I met you at the door. This time the other student with you was white. He was the first in a multi-colored rotation of personal escorts — most seniors, most athletes (We had talked a lot about sports while waiting for French class to start.).

Together, the upperclassmen and athletes took a unified stand that day.

The novelty of a blonde girl from Africa wore off in less than a month. I no longer needed a protection detail because, ultimately, I am white. Though I wouldn’t have made it through the first few weeks (or French class) without you, two other girls from foreign countries transferred into school late. We formed our own Kenyan-Turkish-Sicilian coalition and became fast friends.

I think of that time period often because it opened my eyes to the obvious problem of racism that still exists in the United States. My worldview shifted on its axis.

When I returned to Kenya at the end of the school year, I started noticing some of the negative impacts of colonialism in the country I loved so much. I also began grappling with the “White Savior Complex” and how, without some version of it, I would not have Kenya as my home. It would be another few years before I truly grasped the concept of white privilege and how I benefited from it. Eventually, I got there too — and that is when I realized I could and should do more.

My one month of mild teenage harassment because I lived in Africa can in no way compare to the lifetime of discrimination you withstand because you are descended from there.

I recently had the honor of meeting Elizabeth Eckford of the Little Rock Nine. The trauma she tolerated, not just on her first day at Central High School, but the ongoing, relentless, daily torment forced upon her, shone a harsh light of perspective on my own memories at fifteen. I have never been more in awe of another human. When asked how she put one foot in front of the other that fateful day, she said:

“I am an ordinary person. Ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances can do extraordinary things.”

Thank you, J. Thank you for being extraordinary.
To this day, I remember you. I see you. I hear you.
Your life matters.

Note 1: This letter was originally published on May 17, 2020 on Medium. In 2020, I migrated that writing content to my personal webpage. 

Note 2: #BlackLivesMatter is the modern, digital version of the Selma March. It is a movement advocating much needed change. The fact that protesting racial inequality is still necessary (make no mistake, it is necessary) half a century later, is shameful enough without this black rallying call being appropriated into some version of #AllLivesMatter. No one is saying your life isn’t important, but it likely isn’t the target of violence, hate, and oppression either. Prejudice and shaming are not equal to systematic racism; nor are they mutually exclusive.

Note 3: I learned over the course of the school year that the student body was not overwhelmingly racist, but they were definitely privileged.

You Have Bipolar Disorder, Now What?

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

Get on the bus to bipolar summer camp, but be careful which one you choose.

Being diagnosed with bipolar disorder is jarring. Because public perception places the burden of mental illness on behavior and not biology, so do you. Right now you are more worried about individuality and less about health. Your natural tendency for self-preservation is screaming, “But, this is just who I am!” What now?

Let’s Go to Camp!

Imagine you can get away to post-diagnosis summer camp.* There are four buses waiting — each one takes you to a different compass point around Lake Bipolar: Camp Denial, Camp Defiant, Camp Despair, and Camp Driven. Which one do you choose?

Camp Denial (East)

Denial [dih-nahy-uhl], noun, disbelief in the existence or reality of a thing

Wow! This is one crowded bus. This is because pretending you don’t have a problem is the easy way out. It’s easy because you are already so good at it. Odds are you didn’t land on the doorstop of your diagnostician at the first warning sign. Despite how crowded the seats are, it’s comfortable and familiar. You have been hovering on the outskirts of Camp Denial for a long time. Now you can come right in and you will have a lot of help getting here.

“Keep calm and carry on.”
“Tomorrow is a new day.”
“It’s okay; we can pray it away.”
“Are you sure you have a problem?”

Sound familiar? Camp Denial might be comfortable, but it isn’t healthy for you or those around you. Campers here don’t take medications or visit the camp counselors. They treat camp like just another summer vacation. It is very much a land of make-believe, but no one here is living a fantasy life.

There are two one-way paths leading out of camp — one going north and one going south. Denial campers can switch camps, but they can never return once they accept Lake Bipolar as reality. The north path is narrow and appears challenging. The path to the south is wide and clear; it’s easy.

Camp Defiant (South)

Defiant [dih-fahy-uhnt], adjective, boldly resistant or challenging

“I know me better than anyone else!”
“What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.”
“I’m not like those people.”
“Look at how much fun I’m having!”

The campers at Camp Defiant are a motley crew. Think twice before joining them. Make no mistake, the choice is yours. Choosing to attend Camp Defiant means you know your diagnosis is very much real and accurate. You know it is affecting you and everyone around you in a negative way and you make a conscious decision to ignore it. People drown here all the time. This is the path to addiction — drug addiction, sex addiction, alcohol addiction. It leads to unemployment, family court, and, in extreme cases, prison or death.

We hear about Camp Defiant often. Mainstream media loves reporting the salacious and tragic things that happen here — to excess. These campers are vocal and belligerent. They are tipping the balance of mental health conversation and influencing what people believe. Unfortunately, they seem to be having so much more fun than the rest of us and campers from Denial and Despair are drawn here in droves.

Camp Despair (West)

Despair [dih-spair], noun, loss of hope; hopelessness

While there were only a handful of people on your bus, the first thing you notice about Camp Despair is how many people are here. Most campers do not get on this bus immediately following diagnosis; they transfer from one of the other camps for a variety of reasons.

“I’m so tired.”
“It’s of no use.”
“I can’t do this anymore.”
“No one wants me like this.”

Like Camp Denial, this is place of passive response to your diagnosis. Maybe you were partying hard at Camp Defiant, but now you’re in withdrawal. Perhaps you accepted your diagnosis and, unable to remain a Denial camper, you got lost wandering around the lake and ended up here. Even campers to the north end up here on occasion. We all do. Living with bipolar disorder is hard. We all feel like giving up sometimes, but it is important to not linger here. The longer you stay, the easier it is to never leave. 

Camp Driven (North)

Driven [driv-uh n], adjective, being under compulsion, as to succeed or excel

Camp Driven is your True North. It is the fixed point in your spinning world, but few of us get on this bus in the beginning. It is the active, but often difficult choice because you know it’s going to be hard work. Having lived in various states of denial, despair, or defiance without knowing why, a few campers fully embrace their diagnosis and jump on the bus to Camp Driven because a diagnosis gives them an answer. They have an immediate desire for change.

Even if you’re ready, the bus ride to camp is not an easy one. The road is bumpy. There are a lot of distractions and you will probably deviate to the local amusement park for a ride on the medicinal roller-coaster before your journey can continue. Once you get here, and start doing the work, camp is pretty great.

Most of us came from another camp on the lake. We share in at least one of your experiences. Let us help you. Like us, the counselors here are comprised of people who want to see you succeed — friends, family, coworkers, physicians. We have lifeguards! Every day volunteers venture down the east and west paths to help other campers, step-by-step, make their way to Camp Driven. It turns out the paths heading north are lined with helping hands — once you get past the entrance. We even send a lifeboat to Camp Defiant.

Here lives a community of people with bipolar disorder who are doing their best to manage this strange and mysterious illness. No two have the same story, support system, or prescriptions. Some campers came straight here on the first bus, others have spent time in every camp around the lake. You might even meet someone who disappears and comes back on a regular basis, but they come back because they are driven to be better.

In Camp Driven, you learn to replace the panicked voice of self-preservation with one of self-affirmation.

“Me and my life are important.”
“I need help.”
“I am not alone.”
“I am not defined by my illness. I am still me.”

If we can drown out media cacophony of other campers and change the conversation around mental health, then maybe Camp Driven will become the most popular spot on the lake.

This article was originally published May 3, 2020 on Medium. In 2020, I migrated that writing content to my personal webpage. 

*This is written from personal experience and meant to inspire or provide hope. If you have, or think you have, a mental illness, please consult a physician. Though bipolar summer camp does not exist, there are many organizations and facilities available to help you cope with both your illness and the diagnosis itself. To learn more about finding success in the workplace while living with bipolar disorder, read The Myth of High-Functioning Bipolar Disorder.

Letter (4) — #MeToo

Photo by Gabriel on Unsplash

To the man who grabbed my 12-year-old ass:

Fuck you.

I was twelve.
You were the first man who touched me without permission.
You were an adult.

I was so small that I looked nine.
Skinny… no, scrawny.
Stringy hair. Tomboy.
Nothing advertised sex appeal.
You pedophile.

We were on a train platform in Germany.
It was broad daylight and the sun was shining.

I moved away from my parents and older brother to sketch a crumbling tower on the side of a hill. Our father encouraged us to keep a travel journal.

It was quiet.
This station was in the countryside.
No hustle. No bustle. No throngs of people.
For a while our family was alone on the platform.
Then you appeared.

You paced back and forth from one end of the platform to the other.
I was aware of you, but I was not watching you.
Like us, I thought you were just waiting.
We had waited with so many people at other train stations.
That was a mistake.

During one pass, you came closer.
You grabbed my ass.

I was shocked — convinced I imagined you touching me.
Don’t all predators bet on fanciful childlike minds?

But then you came back. You touched me again.
You grabbed my ass. Again!

I wager what came next was unexpected.
I spun around, smacking you with the journal in my hand.
Stunned, you stepped back.

We stared at each other.
I could see the guilt in your eyes.
I could see the fear.
What if I screamed?
You didn’t make a scene.
But neither did I.
Then you quietly left the platform.

But, you never left my mind.

My family never knew.
Had he known — had he seen — my brother would have beat the shit out of you. Twenty minutes later we boarded a train.

I was twelve.
Naive. Innocent.
Then you grabbed my ass and everything changed.
It’s the day I learned girls always have to live on high alert.

Again, fuck you.

You were the first man to touch me without permission.
You were not the last.

Note: This letter started as a personal Twitter thread at height of the #metoo movement. It was then published on April 30, 2020 via Medium. Later in 2020, I migrated that writing content to my personal webpage. 

Real-Time Evolution of the Events Industry

Photo by Heshan Perera on Unsplash

This is the number one question asked in event industry forums and groups across all social media platforms. Someone asks it almost every day. I know because I check.

“This is it,” I said to my director.
She looked up. “This is what?”

It was March 6, 2020. I know the specific date because it is the day Emerald City Comic Con pulled the plug on their 2020 event. I know this because a) I’m a big geek/fan girl and b) I was obsessively following Seattle-based events because it was, at the time, the only known COVID-19 hotspot in the country.

We had yet to cancel anything locally. There were no known cases of COVID-19 in our state. Rumors were just beginning to swirl about a petition to cancel South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, TX.

The storm was coming. I just didn’t know when; however, I wasn’t referencing the oncoming storm that day. I was looking beyond it.

“This is the shift. This is the moment when conferences go digital — where a conference of 1,200 attendees last year morphs into 900 attendees this year. The other 300 will stay home and get their conference fix through streamed general sessions and recorded breakouts.”

She blinked. “You think?”


Large-scale international experiences, like SXSW, will eventually resume. There will be some modification along the way, but the crowds will return. It is the small- to mid-size meeting, convention, and trade show events that are evolving at a blindingly rapid pace. Lucky for them, the technology has been available for years. They just weren’t using it.

For the amount of effort convention planners put into coming up with new and better themes or general session interactivity, they have been remarkably resistant to utilize live streaming as a core conference element. Getting “butts in the seats” has always been the prevailing model.

Big tech has been utilizing streaming technology for years. Apple began livestreaming events (not just press conferences) with WWDC in 2012, albeit for a cost. How many Apple users attend a product launch in person? Not me, but I watched the September 2019 Apple Special Event when it went live on YouTube for the first time — along with 6+ million other people.

I am also one of the millions who obsessively follows any and all Comic Con content as it begins streaming, not always in real-time, out of San Diego. I did mention my overt geekiness. Due to my own event schedule, I will likely never attend Comic Con unless they hire me (OH! That’s an idea!) — once we all go back to work, of course.

Cue pandemic.

There are now multiple webinars on how to take your event virtual. None of them existed four months ago. Platforms are being tweaked or built to accommodate this evolution as it is happening. For small organizations with no budget, it’s Facebook live to the rescue! Everyone wants to know what is working and what is not, but the short answer is this: It is working.

Over the last eight weeks, every organization has realized at least one regularly scheduled meeting could, indeed, be an email. This is the same concept. Do you really need to meet in person?

There will always be a networking element to conventions. It is, without doubt, the single most valuable portion of the on-site convention experience. Professional development and course content are needed and important, but peer networking is the lifeline. We learn so much more from those who are doing the same we work we do. Virtual attendance, however, will provide the same opportunity for professional development — at a lower cost and from wherever people want to attend. Pants optional.

Parents won’t have to skip a convention in order to attend a child’s graduation.

Organizations who just lost their non-essential travel budgets for the foreseeable future will consider “sending” employees virtually.

Teachers can attend leadership or hobby-focused conferences that take place in the middle of the school year.

I was at a university event one time where a student had tucked himself as far away from the masses as possible — absolutely terrified. The event was mandatory and this student with agoraphobia put himself in great mental anguish in order to attend. Crowds are not for everyone.

For meeting planners, this is a good trend. You better jump onboard. Virtual attendance is a secondary income stream. It can grow the overall size of your event without the need for a larger, more expensive venue. You may also find you can downsize the venue and begin exploring smaller cities that would love to host your attendees.

For venues and host cities, this is an uncomfortable shift simply because we don’t know how it will affect revenue. Will a conference of 1,200 attendees downsize to 900? Or will it swing the opposite direction — bringing the same anticipated 1,200 attendees into the city and adding 300 virtually? What venues can and should do, if we haven’t already, is develop the infrastructure and equipment to support live virtual seminars, trade show walkthroughs, and the recording of multiple breakout sessions simultaneously.

Our clients are going to need it.

Like Comic Con or SXSW, convention attendance will, one day, ease back to normal — but virtual is here to stay.

This article was originally published April 25, 2020 on Medium. In 2020, I migrated that writing content to my personal webpage. 

My Great unRenaissance

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

No, you don’t have to learn a new skill in isolation.

Renaissance [ ren-uh-sahns]
noun: the activity, spirit, or time of the great revival of art, literature, and learning in Europe beginning in the 14th century and extending to the 17th century, marking the transition from the medieval to the modern world.

My last commute from office to home was on Wednesday, April 25. For the next ten days, I continued to work from home before receiving the dreaded but inevitable furlough phone call. I work in the events industry. I love my career. I pour everything I have into my work.

Now what?


I gave myself a week to feel the feelings I needed to feel — anger, mostly. Then I shook off my wrath funk and started to come up with a plan of personal self-development. My isolation resolutions included deep-diving into leadership studies, home improvement projects, reading (So much reading!), podcasts, yoga, webinars, TED Talks, and everything else I never have time to fit into my workaholic schedule.


As hours and days disappeared into the blackhole of a time void, so did my resolve. It only took a few days to abandon my grand resolution plans. Oh, I did a few things, but mostly I was numb and immensely successful at finding low effort activities which aided in keeping me numb.

Eventually, the guilt of not-doing overwhelmed me. I had a few very dark and dangerous days.

All of us are COVID-19 coping differently. Being lulled into numbness was easy, but with it came zero focus. I was trying so hard to shut out the uncertainty and inability to plan for the next week or month that I also shut out the ability to pay attention to anything for more than five minutes at a time.

I had to consciously face four personal realities in order to quiet my raging mind. Then my Great unRenaissance began.

The Great Ego Check

In the two-week time span preceding pandemic isolation, I was passed over for a promotion and then deemed non-essential. Ouch. While I am confident in the workplace and know my value, I also know there is always more to learn. Still, this was a one-two knockout punch in an already unsure and ever-changing environment… and I had not yet dealt with it on a personal level.

The Great Grieving

Grief is one of the most studied yet still misunderstood of human emotions — and I believe most of us are in some form of grief management right now. Loss of lifestyle or employment is throwing millions into the grief process. Many must also add the literal loss of life into the equation. I was trying my best to skip this step. I don’t recommend it.

The Great Loneliness

Being an extrovert in isolation is torture. My children are grown and I live alone. My car also broke down as all this started (because, of course), so I haven’t left my apartment — even to go to the grocery store (Thank you, delivery drivers!). While I am accustomed to being alone when I am at home, I am not used to feeling lonely. My career in events means I’m usually surrounded by humanity. I am people-powered and my batteries have been drained. Don’t get me wrong, I rapid-cycle between lamenting being alone and grateful I’m not forced to share my space with anyone else — even if I love them. But, I am more than alone; I am lonely.

The Great Silence

In order to begin working through the temporary loss of my career, grief, and loneliness, I had to stop numbing every thought in my head with television or music. I don’t even sleep in silence. I rely on music or white noise to get through the night. I turned off the television. I stepped back from around-the-clock social media. I silenced the music and allowed myself to meditate or journal in order to reconcile everything happening right now.

Because I live with bipolar disorder, I also had a video-conference with my doctor. I work diligently at being self-aware and keeping my illness managed. I needed help.

Dealing with these emotions has made it possible for me to start living this “new normal.” Some of my well-intentioned resolutions have come to fruition. I aspired to relocate my personal library — so I did. I also began listening to some podcasts and reading some books on my list. Most notably, I began writing again.

Gone are the personal deadlines and pressures to do better — to BE BETTER. In their place is a naturally evolving process of healing, coping, and listening to what my mind and body need rather than forcing them into places they are not ready to go.

If you are in full pursuit of greatness during isolation and reaping the rewards of extra study, exercise, or creativity, I applaud you with all sincerity. I might also be a smidge jealous. The creators of music, theatre, art, and dance are dominating this transition as they did in the Renaissance — discovering new and innovative ways to feed our souls. I am as grateful for them as I am those on the front lines of this epidemic.

If, however, you are like me and you need a little nothing in your life — for a time — do not let the guilt of that nothingness burden you. Take pride in knowing you are doing the right thing by staying home. If you are longing for productivity and can’t seem to find it, look inward and explore unresolved emotions that may be nudging (or throwing you off the ledge) into depression. If you need it, ask for help.

Celebrate the small accomplishments of your own unRenaissance.
No one will judge you for not mastering Malbolge (Google it.).

This article was originally published April 24, 2020 on Medium. In 2020, I migrated that writing content to my personal webpage. 

The Myth of High-Functioning Bipolar Disorder

Photo by Marco Secchi on Unsplash

Tips for increased productivity despite mental illness.

I am successful in my career. To the casual observer, there is no hint of mental illness even though I make no effort at keeping it a secret. I once had a supervisor who scoffed, “No, you’re not!” when I revealed I have bipolar disorder in casual conversation. Three years later, she would hug me hard as I walked out the door to go home and heal for a few weeks. Then she believed.

Mastery of pretending to be okay combined with general competency masquerades as high-functioning — at least in the workplace. This is because we never tell mental health success stories and it is time to change the narrative.

High-functioning is not a subset of bipolar disorder. If you put ten people with this disorder in a room, you cannot separate them equally by those who are naturally high-functioning and those who are doomed to suffer from the ravages of mental illness. Being high-functioning takes effort. It is a choice — not natural selection.

First, a little history:

My diagnosis came six months after the birth of my oldest son — a pregnancy which stemmed from sexual encounters of which I had little to no memory with a man I barely knew. I married him anyway. Both from differing but no less deep religious upbringings, it was simply understood this is what you did.

I thought postpartum depression was the cause of my moody and erratic behaviors. I was wrong. At the time, there were no television commercials for bipolar medications listing, or implanting, all the symptoms I should share with a doctor. No one discussed mental health.

From the first day of my marriage to the first day of my divorce and beyond it was clear that, despite my diagnosis, I would have to thrive in order for us to survive. I had to be the responsible adult. I could never afford to be fired or unemployed. I had to be indispensable for the sake of my children.

It has been 25 years since my diagnosis. Not one year has been easy. A lot of mistakes were made along the way, but I also learned a lot. One of those things is that, when well-managed, friends, coworkers, and even family members tend to forget my illness exists because it cannot be seen — and when it cannot be seen, the myth of high-functioning bipolar disorder is born.

Here are ten tips to succeeding in the workplace despite a mental illness.

Take your medication every day.

Antipsychotics are similar to antibiotics in that we want to stop taking them as soon as we feel better. Unlike most antibiotics, they also come with a barrage of side effects that make them generally unappealing: rapid and often irreversible weight gain, suppression of sex drive, numbing creative impulses, and many other things which threaten aspects of our lives we would rather not give up. Combined with the roller-coaster of finding the right “cocktail” every few years and sticking with a regimen is difficult. I chose to stop treating my medications like a ball and chain and accepted them as routine.

Be open and honest about your mental illness.

I never wanted the burden of accountability for my mental health to fall on my boys. They were too young to fully understand. Every few years, my body begins to metabolize medications differently. They “wear off.” With no family nearby, I rely on friends and coworkers to notice when something is amiss. They have to know how to help me and that requires honesty. Talking about my illnesses also aids in easing public stigma. I choose to be a part of the solution. This can be a delicate dance in the workplace. In my experience, the risk is usually worth it.

Use the eMoods app.

Even the closest of friends or coworkers can miss the warning signs. After that day my boss hugged me and I walked away from work to heal, I found the eMoods app. Like my medication, use of this app is as routine to me as brushing my teeth and washing my face every evening. With sliding scales and trackers for anger, depression, anxiety, weight, psychotic symptoms, and so much more, the eMoods tracker is one of my most valuable resources. I have a great physician who is willing to receive monthly reports by email which allows her to spot warning signs before it is too late.

Become the software super-user.

It helps that my father loved technology and we had a computer in the house by the mid-1980s, but programs are easy for me to learn — especially customer relation management (CRM) software. When I first began working in an office environment, I taught myself all the Microsoft Office applications beyond Word (Excel, Powerpoint, Access) simply because they were there to be learned. I cannot express how this decision has benefited me in a professional environment. Being the “go to” guru for quick software questions is both rewarding and a big step toward job security.

Fill the “other duties as assigned” gap.

In early 2000, I went to work for a small company that did not yet have a website. Though the owner had purchased a domain name, she didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t want to work somewhere without an online presence, so I bought the first edition of HTML for DummiesI built the inaugural website and maintained it for two years adding “webmaster” on my resume. I have also filled the role of social media manager, graphic designer, and function design document author simply because no one else would step up to the plate and learn the skills necessary to do those things and do them well. Each one of these “out of the box” skills for someone in my industry gets noticed on my resume and opens up some amazing job interview dialogue.

Take mental health days.

I work hard. I show up. I don’t make excuses. But when I need to do so, I take time off. Today, I can refer to this phenomenon as a “mental health day.” Fifteen years ago, I had to fake a stomach bug or claim a child was sick in order to use a sick day for this purpose. There is still a stigma and debate around taking mental health days, but I believe they are vital for all employees, not just those of us with a diagnosed mental illness. Some school districts are beginning to allow mental health days for students and that is progress in the right direction.

Keep learning.

My current company does not provide as much professional development as I would like. I make my own. From webinars to LinkedIn groups to copious industry articles and magazines, I keep myself well-informed — mostly with no financial burden. It also keeps my mind busy. This is important. An idle bipolar brain will invent things to obsess over, so I keep mine occupied as much as possible. In fact, after dropping out of college at age 20 due to my bipolar disorder, I finally earned my degree at age 39 while working full-time, parenting, and managing my illness. It is possible. Continuous learning is the foundation for workplace success.

Accept the consequences of your actions even if you don’t remember making them.

This is the hardest one. Bipolar disorder has sent me to bankruptcy court and it has caused me to make rash decisions that affect my entire family. I refer to bipolar breaks, especially mania, as out-of-body experiences. Sometimes I have vague memories of my actions and sometimes I do not remember them at all. Coming back into reality and facing the consequences and implications of decisions made when I am not in my right mind is agony, but I do it. I try to manage it with my head held high. This has taught me to take responsibility in the workplace as well. I always step up and admit when I am in the wrong or if I should have handled a situation differently. This should be normal human behavior, but it is not. Employers are accustomed to finger pointing and blame. My honesty is noticed and appreciated.

Question the status quo.

There is room for improvement in every organization. Once I have been in a position for a minimum of six to nine months, I become vocal about what can be done better or ways the business can change. Most of my ideas are role specific and hinge on working smarter not harder. Sometimes I just start doing things differently and coworkers follow my lead. In doing this, I learned my employers are willing to make the right changes and always appreciate a fresh perspective. Not all of my ideas are accepted, but the conversation often leads to other solutions.

Attempt better health through diet and exercise.

Once upon a time, I was a great athlete. I am no longer (see aforementioned comment about antipsychotic weight gain). A quarter century of medications has taken its toll on my body. I do get a fair amount of body movement throughout the day due to my work. I spend a lot of time walking the length and breadth of a convention center complex. I also acknowledge that some foods simply don’t make me feel great and I try to avoid them. I use the word “attempt” because this is my great failing. I would feel better, look better, and be even more confident if I would apply the same vigilance to this category as I do continuous learning or taking my medications. We all need something to work on.

There is one mental health method noticeably missing from this list and that is the subject of talk therapy. For better or worse, therapy has factored very little into my bipolar disorder management. To be frank, as a single parent, therapy was far too expensive. I found a way to cope without it. If you can afford it, I highly suggest talk therapy as well.

One time in the last 25 years, I was forced to utilize FMLA benefits for two weeks in order leave work and manage my disorder. I show up. I am reliable and I am good at what I do. I am not a unicorn. All of us with mental illness are capable of shattering the high-functioning myth. With the right combination of care, compassion, and conscious determination, anyone with a mental illness can maximize their own marketability while simultaneously minimizing workplace stigma and risk.

Like medications, you just have to find the right cocktail.

This post was originally published April 23, 2020 on Medium. In 2020, I migrated that writing content to my personal webpage. 

Letter (3) — Every One Needs a Cheerleader

Image by Jill Wellington on Pixabay

To the Awkward Teenager Who Wanted to be a Cheerleader:

You made it!

I have no memory of trying out for the doomed cheerleading squad at our ultra-conservative, Christian boarding school with you. I don’t doubt we did, but I wager I was there for you. It was something you wanted. It was a sports-related activity for which you felt qualified and, as you pointed out in recent years, that was important in our community.

You are correct, of course.

Accomplishment in our academic bubble rarely had anything to do with academics and everything to do with athletics.

You were the academic.
I was the athlete.

More often than not, you were there on the sidelines cheering me on, even though the distinctly American, untranslatable to third-world ideals, squad of school cheerleaders had long since been disbanded. I saw you at basketball games, field hockey games, and even my track meets.

What you may not realize is, at the time and for many years after, my entire identity — the singular status to which my personal pride was attached — was the super athlete. I was THAT athlete from first grade all the way through high school. Faster than any boy. Stronger than most. Somewhere in there, I morphed from muddy tomboy to the hot chick — though I still felt like the muddy tomboy. It was just my thing.

It was my only thing. And then it was gone.

You know that picture Hollywood always paints of the fat, former football quarterback standing in the corner of the class reunion cracking stupid jokes and being mocked because he never became the great CEO and works as a garbage man instead? Or some such version of said story? Yeah. That’s how I feel.

It’s dumb. I’ve known for years I need to shake it. Deep down, I know I have more fascinating qualities than my former athleticism. But I’m stuck anyway.

And you are exquisite.

Somewhere along our adult journey, we switched places. You discovered academia and athletics are not mutually exclusive and you began to take your brain with you on run after run after run — all over the world. You have excelled in life to a level for which I am honored to know you, trust in you, and still call you friend.

Excuse the sports metaphor, but you have lapped me over and over again.

But you didn’t leave me behind when it would have been easy to do so.

With each lap, you have circled back around and lifted me up with words of encouragement which, in truth, have kept me putting one fat foot in front of the other for the last twenty-five years in this marathon of my life:

“Dreams are wonderful things. Go get it!”

“You are so amazing and the hero of your own life. I know your challenges are great.”

“To me, you are still that indomitable kid that showed me the ropes and tackled all the boys and ran like the wind. You always will be.

I called you my cheerleader once before. “What’s not to cheer?” you responded without hesitation. So casual. So confident. So all-encompassing and with zero judgment.

You once told me I am one of the strongest women you know, but every one of us needs a cheerleader and you are mine.

I know you were disappointed that day, so many years ago, when the hope of becoming a school cheerleader was dashed. I also know you are too strong a woman today to dwell on it, but the sting of teenage discouragement has a way of following us around in one form or another.

But, you did make it! You are a life cheerleader on par with the crazy, daring, competitive athletes who elevate cheerleading far beyond the pseudo-choreographed homecoming performances of the squad you idolized in junior high. You are incomparable.

Thank you for being the base of the pyramid when I am doing well.
Thank you for picking me back up when others around me let me fall.
Thank you for showing me that learning a new routine is not the end.

Most of all, thank you for being a life teammate and friend.

“Everywhere we go (echo)
People always ask us (echo)
Who we are (echo)
And where do we come from (echo)
We always tell them (echo)
We are the buffaloes (echo)
And if they can’t hear us (echo)
We shout a little louder!”

I love you.

Note: This letter was originally published on April 9, 2020 on Medium. In 2020, I migrated that writing content to my personal webpage.